NIT Finals: UAB vs. North Texas

NIT Finals: UAB vs. North Texas

North Texas Mean Green vs. UAB Blazers

Line: UAB -2

Total: 128

Where: Orleans Arena, Paradise, Nevada

When: Thursday, 3/30 at 9:40 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

There was not a ton of buzz surrounding Conference USA heading into Selection Sunday, but they have certainly made their mark during the postseason.

Florida Atlantic made a stunning run to the Final Four, and Thursday night’s NIT Championship features a pair of conference rivals. No. 3 seed North Texas punched its ticket to the title game with a win over Wisconsin in the semifinals, while No. 4 seed UAB beat Utah Valley.

Oddsmakers opened UAB as a 1-point favorite for the fourth meeting between these teams, with the early betting action moving the Blazers to -2. Thursday night’s total opened at 125.5 and has been bumped up to 128 as of Wednesday afternoon.

North Texas won both regular-season meetings against UAB, springing an upset as a 3-point underdog and covering in double overtime as a 2.5-point favorite. The Blazers won when it mattered most, notching a 76-69 win as 1-point favorites in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament.

Jordan Walker poured in 32 points and dished out six assists in that win, and he has scored at least 16 points in four of his five games since then. He had 17 points, six assists and five rebounds in an 88-86 win over Utah Valley on Tuesday, but the Blazers failed to cover the 4.5-point spread and he went just 5 of 23 from the floor. Walker missed UAB’s home loss to the Mean Green during the regular season.

Andy Kennedy’s team had previously beaten Southern Miss, Morehead State and Vanderbilt in its run to Las Vegas. Ty Brewer scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Utah Valley, while Eric Gaines scored seven of his 13 points in overtime. UAB has struggled with consistency on the offensive end throughout the season, ranked No. 188 in effective field goal percentage.

The Blazers rank tenth in the country in offensive rebounding and are facing a North Texas defense that is No. 176 in rebounding. UAB is the fifth-most experienced team in college basketball, while North Texas is No. 167 in that category.

The Mean Green advanced to the NIT semis with wins over Alcorn State, Sam Houston State and Oklahoma State, beating the Cowboys by six points as 4.5-point underdogs. They added a win over Wisconsin on Tuesday, taking their first lead with 2:08 remaining when Moulaye Sissoko hit a shot to cap a 10-0 run. Their defense, which leads the country in scoring (55.7 PPG), held the Badgers scoreless for the final 9:07 of the game.

“That’s a fantastic Wisconsin team that we have a lot of respect for,” North Texas coach Grant McCasland said. “But man, we have a tough group. To hold them to no points and no baskets over the last nine minutes and to hold them to 13 second-half points is awesome. I thought our team just got more active as the game went on.”

Senior guard Tylor Perry paces the North Texas offense with 17.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while Kai Huntsberry (12.0) and Abou Ousmane (11.1) are both in double figures as well. Ousmane has missed the last three games due to a family matter, and his status for this game is unknown.

The Mean Green rank No. 75 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, relying on their rebounding as well. They have dealt with severe turnover issues (No. 288) and are only shooting 49.3% from 2-point range. This will be another challenging matchup, as UAB is No. 43 in defensive field goal percentage.

The Blazers have covered the spread in five of their last seven games and have gone ‘under’ the total in four of their last five games. North Texas is 12-3 ATS in its last 15 games, going ‘over’ in four of its last six contests.

North Texas center Abou Ousmane has missed three straight games due to personal reasons. However, there’s a chance he might be back with the team Thursday night, as he’s been upgraded to ‘questionable.’ Ousmane averages 11.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots per game.

The pick: UAB -2

I’m going back to the well with UAB after it came up just short of covering the spread against Utah Valley in the semis. The Blazers beat North Texas in the conference tournament, using their experience and the Mean Green’s propensity to turn the ball over to their advantage. North Texas is fortunate to be here after Wisconsin went scoreless for nearly the final quarter of Tuesday’s game. Meanwhile, UAB raced out to an early lead and overcame a terrible night from its star player, so I am seeing value on the Blazers as small favorites, especially since North Texas has been without its third-leading scorer during the NIT.